Ayurveda is a word in the Sanskrit language of India that literally translates to the science [or wisdom] of life. Ayur translates to life and Veda translates to wisdom, knowledge or science. Since its origin thousands of years ago, Ayurveda has a continuous tradition of professional practice, research and education. It has become an inseparable part of the culture and daily lifestyle of traditional families in India. During the last thirty years, many original Ayurvedic Sanskrit texts have been translated into various European languages, including English. This has gradually led to the current popularity of Ayurveda in the West.
What Makes Ayurveda Special?
It respects the uniqueness of the individual.
It considers all the levels of the individual – Body, mind and spirit.
It offers natural ways of treating diseases and promoting health.
It emphasizes prevention.
It empowers everyone to take responsibility for their own well-being.
It is cost-effective.
Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of creating and maintaining positive health. Its focus is on preventing the imbalances that lead to disease. For prevention as well as for treatment, an individualized, multi-dimensional approach is taken.
Ayurveda is strikingly different from other medical sciences because it recognizes that each person is made up of a unique body type and a unique psychological personality. Thus, instead of assuming that all of us are identical machines or guinea pigs, Ayurveda respects the uniqueness of each person. Secondly, Ayurveda does not limit itself to physical or psychological dimensions. It considers all the levels of a person, which include the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, behavioral, physical, familial, social, environmental and universal levels.
The Science of Life
Ayurveda is a part of the Vedic system of knowledge. Among the four Vedas—Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda—Ayurveda is a part of the Atharva Veda.
Between 1000 – 700 BC, Ayurveda developed into eight branches or specialties and two schools: Atreya, the school of physicians and Dhanvantari, the school of surgeons.
The chanting of mantras and the religious aspect of medicine in the Vedas was gradually supplemented by observations based on scientific thinking. The material scattered throughout the Vedas was collected, subjected to rigid tests for efficacy and then rearranged. Such compilations are called Samhita when written in Sanskrit:
1. Charaka Samhita
2. Sushruta Samhita
3. Ashtang Hridaya Samhita
These are the three oldest, most authentic and most respected Samhitas. They are called the Brihat Trai, or Great Trio.
A classical text book of Internal medicine (Kayachikitsa).
Considered the prime work on the basic concepts of Ayurveda.
Represents the Atreya Sampradaya, or Atreya School of Physicians.
A systematic work divided into eight sections which are further divided into 120 chapters.
Represents the Dhanvantari School of Surgeons and is considered in Ayurveda to be the father of surgery.
Contains sophisticated descriptions of surgical instruments and various procedures such as plastic surgery.
Origin and Background
Contains descriptions of the marmas—vital points in the body that are comparable to the system of acupuncture meridians in Chinese Medicine.
Hastam eva pradhan yantram. The word surgery comes from the Greek word meaning manual operation. Sushruta emphasizes that among all surgical instruments, the hand is the most important because all other instruments are useless without it.
Vagbhata wrote the Asthang Hridaya in poetic verse form.
Broken into two sections: The Ashtanga Sangraha and Ashtanga Hridaya.
The Ashtanga Sangraha is the third important composition of the great triad. It deals with all eight branches of Ayurveda (Ashtanga: eight, Sangraha: collection). This is divided into 150 chapters.
Ashtanga Hridaya is more concise than Ashtanga Sangraha and is written in verse—a beautiful poetry form; this makes it easier for a student to remember important subjects in a
The word Ashtang or Ashtanga translates to eight
1. Kayachikitsa | Internal Medicine
Deals with the prevention, etiology, prognosis and management of disease.
2. Shalya Tantra | Surgery
Various surgeries are described. The first plastic surgery was described in the Sushrut Samhita.
3. Shalakya Tantra | Ear, Nose, Throat and Eye Diseases
The Ayurvedic branch of ophthalmology and Oto-rhinolaryngology - diseases of eye and ear, nose and throat.
4. Kaumarbhritya | Pediatrics
Deals with prenatal and postnatal baby care and with the care of the mother
before conception and during pregnancy. Various childhood diseases and treatments come under this branch.
5. Agada Tantra | Toxicology
This branch deals with the toxicity and purification of herbs as well as mineral and animal products.
6. Bhuta Vidya | Psychiatry
Ayurveda is equally concerned with mental diseases
and their treatment. Treatment methods include not only diet and herbs, but
also yogic methods for improving the state of mind. There is ample material for research on this branch in the Atharva Veda and other Ayurveda chapters.
7. Rasayana| The Science of Rejuvenation
This therapy is used to prevent disease and
promote healthy living.
8. Vajikarana | The Science of Aphrodisiacs
This branch deals with the means of
increasing sexual vitality and efficiency. For achieving healthy and intelligent progeny, the therapy of Rasayana and Vajikarana are closely interrelated. Vajikarana medicines also act as rejuvenatives.
Ayurveda describes several methods for conceiving a child.
There are six fundamental systems of philosophy derived from the Vedas or Vedic Systems often referred to as Shatdarshana. The word shat translates to six and darshana translates to philosophy or understanding. These systems include the Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yogadarshana, Mimamsa and Vedanta. They are considered the most important philosophies derived from the Vedic texts.
One of the oldest philosophical theories.
The word sankhya is derived from sat meaning truth and khya meaning to realize.
Another definition of sankhya is a number that is related to the 24 elemental building blocks (principles) which constitute the Sankhya view of the universe:
Purusha | Pure Consciousness
The origin of creation
Conscious ground for creation
Passive in creation
Reflects in each and every living being
1. Prakriti | The First Step of Creation
The entire universe is created from Prakriti
Contains prime attributes behind all things as forms of perception
Has three qualities called Gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
o Sattva Guna is knowledge, clarity, and purity
o Rajas Guna is action, mobility, stimulus
o Tamas Guna is ignorance, inactivity, heaviness and darkness
Prakriti and its three Gunas are responsible for the diversity in the universe while the existence of Purusha is responsible for unity.
Prakriti and Purusha are the ultimate, causeless, omnipresent and all pervasive causes of the universe. When they combine, creation begins.
The Philosophical Foundation
2. Mahat | Cosmic Intelligence
The First Manifestation of Prakriti
The cosmic intelligence, intuition and/or wisdom
Buddhi is individual intelligence
In every cell of an individual there is inborn intelligence. This intelligence puts
everything in its proper place.
3. Ahankara | The Cosmic Ego
Ahankara represents the power of differentiation or diversification, the awareness of the self, or the feeling I am.
The three Gunas manifest here in the form of Sattvic Ahankara, Rajas Ahankara and Tamas Ahankara.
4. Manasa | Mind
Manasa represents the formulating principle of emotions and ideas, as well as the individual consciousness projected by Rajas Ahankara. It connects the inner and outer worlds
10 – 14 Panchakarmendriyani | The Five Organs of Action
1. Vocal Chords
4. Urethra (Urogenital Tract)
The Five Organs of Action derive from Rajas Ahankara. As organs of action, Rajas is called Kriya Shakti, which translates to the actions directed toward all that is, or the nine powers of action.
15 – 19 Tanmatras | The Five Causal Elements
1. Shabda | Sound
2. Sparsha | Touch
The word Pancha translates to five
5 – 9 Panchagyanendriyani
The Five Sense Organs
The five sense organs are derived from Sattvic Ahankara. They perceive sound, vision, touch, taste and smell respectively. The entire knowledge of the universe is obtained through these sense organs. Therefore they are called Gyana Shakti, or the knowledge of all that is.
3. Rupa | Vision
4. Rasa | Taste
5. Gandha | Smell
The Five Causal Elements derive from Tamas Ahankara and represent the unmanifested forms of the five elements.
20 – 24 Panchamahabhutas | The Five Elements
1. Akash | Space
2. Vayu | Air
3. Tejas | Fire
4. Aap | Water
5. Prithvi | Earth
All matter is created by the combination of these five material elements. Therefore Tamas is called Dravya Shakti, which translates to the power of substance.
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